Mammals

Tue 1st – Sat 5th November 2011

reviews

Victoria Weavil

at 01:50 on 2nd Nov 2011

2agrees

0disagrees

Does marriage really spell the death of romance? Is it possible to find love in ‘meaningless’ affairs? Heck, what is the meaning of all this ‘love’ business anyway, and is it really all it’s cracked up to be? First staged at the Bush Theatre in 2005, 'Mammals' addresses all these questions and more, offering a highly entertaining insight into modern relationships and all the ups, downs, and endless bickering that come with them. But don’t be put off by the weighty subject-matter; wonderfully acted and driven by moments of great comic force, this play is guaranteed to have you in stitches from start to finish.

Strewn with cornflake packets, bottles of wine and a myriad of children’s toys – all the trimmings of the chaotic modern-day family home – the set provides the perfect backdrop to the emotional havoc to come: And, true to form, on storms frustrated mum Jane (in a captivating performance by Bella Hammad), swiftly followed by her two boisterous young daughters. What follows is the quintessential family breakfast scene complete with all the quibbling and temper tantrums we all secretly love to hate. Rattling off the dreaded, unanswerable questions children are oh so good at (What happens when you die mummy? How do adults make babies daddy? What does it mean ‘to sex’?), Jessie Norman and Martha Ellis Leach provide stellar performances as the endearingly ingenuous Jess and Betty, respectively. Moments of particular comic force come with Jess’s unashamed habit of rubbing herself against the kitchen cupboard, her repeated questions about “hairy fannies”, and Betty’s eventual conclusion that ending up in heaven might not be so bad after all, as long as they’ll be offering apple juice as an alternative to tea.

Yet it is with Jess’s and Betty’s departure from stage that the real emotional turmoil begins. For on shuffles husband Kev (Rhys Bevan) – flawless as the stereotypical modern family man torn between “mammal desires” and moral conscience – bringing with him the first in a series of big announcements. And true to typecast, his attempt at a confession exudes just the right amount of frustrated ennui; here is a man driven more by a clichéd male desire to escape family responsibility and the mundanity of everyday life than by any aching desire for another woman (Fay, in this case). The arrival of best friend Phil (Sam Carter) and his unashamedly shallow whirlwind of a girlfriend Lorna (Ella Waldman) offer some much-needed comic relief at this point. Caught up in what Phil describes as no more or less than a “three year-long one night stand”, the couple would appear to provide the perfect counterpoint to the emotional bleakness of this marital battle. And yet despite their apparent frivolity, the pair are in fact plagued by just the same fights, unfulfilled emotional needs, and nostalgia for that elusive Perfect Love as their married counterparts.

Distinguished by great acting and a cast that work superbly as an ensemble, Ruby Thomas’s rendition of Mammals is as emotionally insightful as it is entertaining. Yet if pushed to identify one particularly strong point I would have to single out the interaction between Jane and the two children: for it is the refreshing depiction of the contrast between the cynicism of adulthood and the candid perceptiveness and energy of childhood that truly makes this performance. Don’t miss out!

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